Sunday December 03, 2017

Joseph Goldstein's Survival Guide to the Age of Outrage

(KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen 28:51

It's been called a dumpster fire of a year, 2017.

The intensification of white supremacy. The endless parade of famous men accused of sexual misconduct. Dire warnings about environmental collapse.

It's enough to make you blow your top. Or crawl under a rock.

But it is possible to stay centred - and relatively sane - in the Age of Outrage. Renowned meditation teacher and writer Joseph Goldstein tells you how:

Joseph Goldstein

Joseph Goldstein

1. Send out lovingkindness to everyone, including people you really, really don't like

Goldstein teaches lovingkindness meditation, a practice of sending positive, friendly wishes to yourself and to the rest of the world. "May you be well in body and mind. May you be at ease and happy."

It's not always an easy thing to do.

During a meditation retreat shortly after the attacks of 9/11, some residents of New York City said they weren't able or willing to send kindhearted thoughts to the people who crashed the planes into the Twin Towers.

Goldstein understood, but the Buddha said lovingkindness should be extended to all beings; there are no exceptions. The solution: reframe the intention.

"It would have been very difficult for people to express the wish, 'May you be happy'. That was not on the table. But to express the wish, 'May you be free of hatred', that's a real possibility. So it's finding the right expression for the particular situation."

Goldstein says extending lovingkindness to people you fundamentally disagree with can transform your perspective and help engender a sense of hope.

"Often at night, I'll be laying in bed, thinking about the political situation and feeling upset by it all, and very often I will actually start doing the lovingkindness meditation toward Donald Trump. And it's really sending it in the same way - 'May you be at peace'. Just that wish. Because clearly a lot of these responses that we hear from him to different situations in the world are coming about because there doesn't seem to be much peace in his mind or heart. When I do that, it's genuine. I would wish for that in him. And in some way it steps out of the polarization and allows for a more considered reflection on what we might do in this situation."

2.  Be responsive, not reactive

Social media is a space that seems to promote impulsive behaviour and hair trigger reactions. Inflammatory remarks, name-calling, and hurtful comments are par for the course… and so are the anger and remorse that tend to follow. Goldstein says that we will feel infinitely better once we train ourselves to stop and think before doing anything. This gives us the ability to respond thoughtfully, instead of reacting impulsively.

"Because our buttons will get pressed - unless one happens to be a saint! - we are going to have these reactions. The question is: can we become aware of them as they are arising in the mind and consider an alternative? Or are we simply caught up in the reactivity and lost in that whole chain of action that follows from it? So mindfulness of what's happening in ourselves is the key."

Goldstein says emotions such as anger or self-righteousness are signals that you may be in reaction mode. Slow down so you can respond mindfully.

3. Take a break from technology  

Technology is a mixed blessing, says Goldstein. Smartphones and tablets are powerful tools, but he says  "They are addictive. If it's in the room, there's a good chance that they will be using it."

Goldstein avoids using his smartphone whenever he can and he has incorporated a 'renunciation ceremony' at his retreats to encourage participants to set their phones and tablets aside.

At the beginning of the meditation retreat, Goldstein invites everyone to come up to the front of the room and place their devices into a basket. They then ring a bell to celebrate the act of renunciation.

He suggests limiting when you carry your phone with you, which is what he does. He also suggests considering an older phone – one that is not connected to the internet – to help you resist the temptation to spend too much time on your phone.

"Ask yourself - how can I be with this technology that supports my well-being, rather than detracts from it."


Joseph Goldstein has studied various kinds of Buddhist meditation with masters from Thailand, India and Tibet. He is co-founder of The Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has lead insight and lovingkindness meditation retreats around the world since the 1970s. In Canada, the True North Insight is a similar organization that was founded in 2004. 

Joseph Goldstein is the author or co-author of many books on Buddhist practice and mindfulness, including One Dharma and Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.


Click LISTEN to hear Mary's full conversation with Joseph Goldstein.